A heavy sea lion cull has local angst against salmon farms running high.
Over a two-day period in December—Dec. 3 and 16—Cermaq employees shot and killed 15 California sea lions at the company’s Binns Island salmon farm near Tofino.
Local conservation organization Clayoquot Action issued a statement on March 21 calling the cull a “massacre,” and urging the company to shut down the 17 salmon farms it operates in the area.
“Killing marine mammals in a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, which is renowned for wildlife viewing is wrong. It’s time for Cermaq to remove their salmon farms from Clayoquot Sound,” said Clayoquot Action co-founder Bonny Glambeck.
“While in Norway this winter we learned that the industry there is in a state of crisis due to uncontrollable outbreaks of sea lice and disease, and escapes. The Norwegian model of open-net pen salmon farming is not working in Norway, and should never have been allowed in British Columbia.”
Cermaq spokesperson Grant Warkentin told the Westerly the cull was necessary because the sea lions were damaging the farm’s infrastructure and putting the company’s salmon and employees at risk.
“We tried everything that we could to get them out of the pens, to scare them out, to lure them out, without having to use any sort of lethal means but they unfortunately didn’t get out and we had to do it this way,” he said.
“They were doing physical damage to the system and with that many large aggressive animals…they’re not really something a human is going to be able to scare away if they don’t want to be scared away.”
Warkentin acknowledged Cermaq’s shooting of the animals has locals upset.
“I totally get it. We’re pretty upset too. This is not something we want to do; this is the absolute last resort and it’s unfortunate that we had to get to this point,” he said.
“All our people live and work on the Coast and they enjoy and love the wildlife too, so for us to have to take lethal action is the last thing that we want to have to do but in certain extreme circumstances that’s unfortunately the way it has to go.”
He said wildlife culls are rare at Cermaq’s fish farms and the company’s public reporting suggests its last cull in Clayoquot Sound was in January 2014 when two harbour seals were killed at its Plover Point farm.
“It hardly ever happens that we even have one or two animals that become a problem, so over two days to have this many animals be such a large problem is pretty unusual,” he said of the Binns Island incident.
He said the Binns Island farm had been fallow for several years before reopening and this likely contributed to the increased sea lion activity but he added that Cermaq does not see the site as problematic.
“We hadn’t had a farm in that area for a few years so maybe that was an attractant to them,” he said.
“If we’ve got the right sort of system set up, and if we can anticipate things properly, we can usually minimize any sort of negative interactions with wildlife. This was just an unusual combination of a bunch of different things that came together that unfortunately led to the culling of these animals.”
He said Cermaq employees shot the 15 sea lions and the carcasses were taken to a facility for disposal.
“It’s been policy for probably more than a decade to not have any guns on-site and if there were a lethal incident, it’s only carried out by somebody who’s got all the necessary permits and requirements,” he said.
He assured Cermaq would do everything it can to avoid culls in the future.
“Over the past decade, we’ve found ways to prevent interactions, particularly with predators like seals and sea lions…sometimes you just have a certain site in a certain place and a certain set of circumstances that come together,” he said.
“As Tofitians know, the ocean is different everyday, so sometimes you just can’t predict what’s going to happen…Our goal is always to have zero marine mammal deaths, even one is just
He said predator security at Binns Island has been upped since the incident.
“We’ve improved the fencing around the system and made it stronger,” he said adding nets don’t always work on sea lions.“
“They’ll try to actually physically climb onto the system and then jump into the pens and some of the animals are pretty huge and they can really throw their weight around.”